Credibility Counts in a World of Snake Oil Salespeople

The only thing extreme about the reality shows Extreme Makeover and the Swan is how they distort reality. These shows join an unending supply of products and services that claim to offer the fountain of youth. Many pick the pockets of older adults instead. In the world of snake oil sales, the foot soldiers sell anti-aging products with claims that make those in the know cringe. Until making false claims leads to more serious consequences, unscrupulous companies will continue taking advantage of this population.

Miracle creams, nutritional products and the like can have an impact on the older adult's wallet and health. The flow of false information that accompanies these bogus goods and services may also distract or stop people from adopting healthy behaviors. How can those who want to attract and serve aging clients counteract the effects of false claims that prevent them from participating in wellness and fitness programs?

A quality inherent in your business may prove a silver bullet in this battle. In a world of false promises, credibility can help you soar above the crowd of snake oil salespeople and ahead of the competition. Check out these 10 tips for building your credibility with this market and capitalizing on this in your sales:

  1. Create a high-profile advisory board.

    The quickest way to establish credibility is to attach the credibility of others to your organization. Go into the community and handpick high-profile individuals for your advisory board. Start with your mayor and key physicians, researchers and educators before moving onto people from community groups.

  2. Court partners.

    Focus on creating strategic alliances with reputable medical and non-medical organizations. Partner with your local hospital and physician or the local chapter of the American Heart Association or United Way, for example. Alliances confer on your organization a level of credibility almost impossible to buy and difficult to create.

  3. Become an expert.

    If you have little or no profile in your community, craft one. If your presence is mediocre, enhance it. Become a local or national expert in your field, and ensure the media knows it: make yourself available for interviews; write articles; conduct seminars. The visibility and goodwill you gain is priceless.

    Be sure to place your articles in handsome frames and hang them in your facility's entry area, meeting room, eating area/restaurant or on the wall behind your desk. These clippings add legitimacy to your business and entertainment for your customers and visitors. Distribute the articles to employees and suppliers to build loyalty and pride.

  4. Get involved in your community.

    Support local charities, and hold events to show support. Your community will see you as a good corporate citizen.

  5. Do your research and know your market.

    Credibility starts with knowing your target audience. The older adult market has many segments — each with its own wants and needs. Learn what types of programs, marketing and services appeal to the different segments. Identify your segment and use that knowledge to create credible programming and marketing.

  6. Provide the facts.

    Hold the sugar. This age group wants the straight facts. Your most effective sales messages will explain simply why one should be interested and exactly what benefits the person will receive.

  7. Create relationships.

    Generally, the older adult market values personal ties and will gladly take time to get to know you and your product or service. Take advantage of this by giving people an unforgettable experience. Older adults have learned that few things require an instant decision, so they respond poorly to pressure tactics — in this group's view, pressure reduces credibility.

  8. Educate the market.

    Show your target community that you care. Organize open houses and seminars that educate about health issues they face, such as osteoporosis. By educating, you show you speak their language.

  9. Choose appropriate models and staff.

    Midlife and older adults are not confined to rocking chairs or the golf course. In your marketing, use images that reflect your audience's lifestyles.

  10. Strut your stuff.

    Been in business for 25 years? Say so. New kid on the block? Emphasize your commitment to customer service. If you belong to a national industry association or to a local business group that specializes in the aging market, let people know. Your key copy elements should include professional endorsements, documentation and evidence. Highlight your staff's qualifications, plus any research projects you're involved in. Show your staff 's credentials and awards. And create a wall with stories and photographs of older people who have experienced life-altering improvements.

By enhancing your credibility in consumers' eyes, you show older adults that you share and understand their values. And you take your first step towards securing this age group as the centerpiece of your business.

Colin Milner is chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging. An award-winning writer, Milner has authored more than 100 articles on aging-related issues. He can be reached at

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